Sony's Cineza VPL-HS3 projector arrives with the weight of expectation on its shoulders. As well as being the third generation of Sony's groundbreaking Cineza home projector concept, with its unparalleled living-room friendliness, it is also the first budget projector that we have seen with a snazzy new HDMI input...
The VPL-HS3's glossy white and grey colour combination is reasonably attractive - but not as tasty as the rich blue of the original HS1. Oh well. At least the familiar circular shaping and innovative foot-mount system have been retained to funky effect.
The star attraction of the Cineza VPL-HS3 is unquestionably the HDMI input. This new connection (it's actually still in the final stages of being formally ratified by the DVD industry) is designed to provide an all-digital delivery route for pictures and surround sound. Naturally, the sound isn't important for the VPL-HS3, but the all-digital approach could work wonders on its pictures.
Aside from the HDMI jack, the only noteworthy connections are S-video and composite video feeds, plus a curious PJ Multi slot where you can actually pipe in PAL progressive component video via a supplied (impressively long) adaptor cable. Sony also does an optional connection interface unit for the VPL-HS3, the IFU-HS1.
Thanks to its innovative tilting/rotating foot, plus vertical and horizontal keystone correction, the VPL-HS3 is uniquely flexible in terms of where it can be plonked in your living room.
It's compatible with all the big progressive and high-def formats (via compressions), meanwhile, and has bags of picture flexibility. A standout is the Iris mode, whereby the aperture is reduced to improve contrast. The projector also has a Low Lamp mode for reducing brightness and fan noise. There are multiple presets for different sources too, plus three user-defined picture preference memories and a black level booster.
The only bad news, really, is that the HS3, unlike its two predecessors, doesn't come with a free screen.
Although the flexibility to put the VPL-HS3 almost anywhere in relation to the screen is commendable, it does make the setup process relatively complex and long-winded. Once you've got all the angling, rotating, keystone and focusing setup bits sorted, though, it's plain sailing from then on thanks to a fine, TV-style remote and clear onscreen menus.
Good news first. To start with, the VPL-HS3 delivers the best LCD black level in its class. What's more, it provides the sharpest picture too. There's a simply phenomenal amount of detail and edge definition on show.
So why am I not loving it? The worst offender is visible image structure, or 'chicken-wire effect'. Far too often your eye picks out the edges of the individual pixels in the picture, or at least the horizontal line structure of the LCD panel. Neither did I find colours especially natural. They seemed a little over-ripe at times, with flesh tones in particular tending to take on an unhealthy greenish tinge.
The HDMI jack does deliver richer colours and remarkable levels of clarity and sharpness - but thanks to the VPL-HS3's visible panel structure, this doesn't actually do the VPL-HS3's picture the favour you'd expect it to!
In some ways the VPL-HS3 is to be admired. The innovative Sony design still wins plaudits, although the result is a projector that is larger than most of its rivals. The HDMI jack is also a great future-proofing touch, its contrast levels impress and its positional flexibility is second to none.
And yet there are still enough things wrong here to give a consumer pause for thought - especially given that the VPL-HS3 comes in at the top extreme of the market's price bracket...